NASA’s MAVEN orbiter, which has been orbiting Mars for over eight years, observed two types of ultraviolet aurorae at the same time. Solar storms that began on August 27 caused this light show.
MAVEN, which stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, was launched in November 2013. It’s goal was to explore the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere, and interactions with the sun and solar wind.
Accurate space weather forecasting is critical to helping protect current missions and future human explorers on Mars. Because, unlike Earth, Mars lacks a global magnetic field to shield against the damaging radiation that solar storms can bring, according to NASA.
On August 27, an active region on the Sun produced a series of solar flares, according to the agency. Following this, a coronal mass ejection (CME) impacted Mars a few days later.
This CME produced one of the brightest solar energetic particle (SEP) events ever observed by the MAVEN Mars orbiter. On August 27, the orbiter’s SEP detector detected the SEPs that were accelerated ahead of the CME.
Furthermore, many of the spacecraft’s instruments, collectively measured the strength of the solar storm.
“It’s thrilling to be witnessing “firsts” like these simultaneous auroras after so many years of the mission. We still have a lot to learn about the atmosphere and how solar storms affect Mars.” MAVEN’s principal investigator at the University of California, Berkeley, Shannon Curry, said.